News Column

Mob comedy takes a beating

September 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 14--When done right, a gangster comedy with some brains and some blood can become a black comedy favorite, along the lines of "The Freshman" or "Prizzi's Honor" or "Get Shorty." If you haven't seen Ben Kingsley in 2007's "You Kill Me," you have a treat in store.

Too many of these mob comedies go in the direction of camping up the comedy, which hasn't been original since Al Capone's time, and they go dopey like the cringeworthy "My Blue Heaven."

A new film, "The Family," is as original as that title.

We meet a family of four moved in the Witness Protection Program to a small town in France. They frequently move, we learn, because they and their criminal ways just don't fit in with the locals.

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star as the couple, Giovanni and Maggie. He's a mob guy who snitched years ago on made men who are still hunting him, and she's a tough-chick matriarch, which is about all the definition this lame script could manage.

These actors have done this work before and better, in De Niro's "Analyze This" and Pfeiffer's excellent "Married to the Mob" turn. Pair those as a double-feature and skip "The Family."

The movie has watchable moments, nearly all of them stuffed into the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes, during the setup and the conclusion.

The 80 minutes in between nearly put me to sleep -- but not with the fishes -- because the filmmakers couldn't decide if they wanted to go smart or go lunkheaded, so the movie is a mix of these styles.

The result is messy -- bloody messy, at times.

People are beaten with a baseball bat (De Niro gets in a Capone in-joke here, worthy of a snort toward "The Untouchables"), clubbed by a tennis racket (by the teen daughter), blown up (mom gets in on the action) and punched bloody by a gang (the son doesn't work alone).

It's difficult to believe that the action, the tender moments and the style that writer-director Luc Besson brought to "Le Femme Nikita" and "The Professional" could be so absent here.

But in those movies, he interjected comedic moments into pulse-pounding dramas; here he's shooting for the funny bone from the start and misfiring throughout.

Those times when the movie works usually finds all four family members together, which is rare in this film that finds them separated into far too many subplots.

Dad is stuck at home, writing his memoirs and having goofy "I'm being careful" conversations with an FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones, who could only have taken this nothing role for the French vacation).

Mom is, well, I'm never sure what she's doing beyond shopping for groceries. The daughter (Dianna Agron, formerly of "Glee") fares well in the best subplot, as a young woman falling in love for the first time with a French tutor. The son (John D'Leo) has an amusing entrepreneurial spirit (running the mini-gangster rackets at school).

The result is a wildly disjointed film that lacks in laughs, depth of meaning and fluid storytelling due to a loss of chemistry between its leads. Too many movies this year are being knocked off by scripts trying to tell too many stories.

Then there's the multiple times we're sent to the U.S. where the mob boss finally figures out Giovanni's location (these scenes are the most ripe for editing out).

Perhaps the worst thing you can say about "The Family" is that it's so meaningless that it's harmless, and that's enough to order the film a concrete coffin.

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